The Cervical Spine
The cervical spine is made up of the first seven vertebrae in the spine. It starts just below the skull and ends at the top of the thoracic spine. The cervical spine has a slight outward curve (lordotic curve) and is much more mobile than either the thoracic or lumbar regions of the spine. Unlike these other regions of the spine, the cervical spine has special openings in each vertebra for the arteries that carry blood to the brain.
The first two vertebral bodies in the cervical spine are called the atlas and the axis. The atlas supports the weight of the head, and is named after the mythical Greek god who supported the weight of the world on his shoulders. The atlas and axis differ from all other vertebrae in the spine because they are designed primarily for rotation. The atlas has a thick forward (anterior) arch and a thin back (posterior) arch, with two prominent masses.
The axis sits underneath the atlas and has a bony knob called the odontoid process that sticks up through the hole in the atlas. It is this mechanism that allows the head to turn from side to side. There are special ligaments between these two vertebrae that allow for rotation between these two bones
Between each vertebra in the cervical spine are discs that act as cushions or shock absorbers and also permit some movement between the vertebral bodies. The entire spinal column is joined together by ligaments that allow the spine to bend and twist, carrying the weight of the human body with just the right balance of strength and flexibility. In addition to the intervertebral discs, special joints between each of the vertebral bodies, called facet joints, allow the individual bones of the spine to move and rotate with respect to each other. These joints can be a source of pain if they become arthritic.
Many muscle groups that move the trunk and the limbs also attach to the spinal column. The muscles that closely surround the bones of the spine are important for maintaining posture and helping the spine to carry the loads created during normal activity, work and play. Strengthening these muscles can be an important part of physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Each vertebra is shaped in such a way that when they are stacked together, the spinal cord is entirely surrounded by the bones of the entire spinal column and protected from damage. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system and is a direct extension of the brain. It is made up of a large collection of nerves and carries messages from the brain to the rest of the body.
The materials on this Web site are for your general educational information only. Information you read on this Web site cannot replace the relationship that you have with your health care professional. We do not practice medicine or provide medical services or advice as a part of this Web site. You should always talk to your health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.